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A few days ago, one of India’s best fashion influencers posted on Instagram that she has been losing follower base and branded content deals because she has decided not to post content at all for some time in view of the unprecedented times caused by the second Covid wave. She never thought her decision will lead to a decreased fan following and revenue. In her post, she shared her dilemma with her followers and asked for a solution.

As posting branded content on social media amid the surging pandemic might be termed as insensitive by followers, most influencers have put a pause on such activities and are instead actively amplifying SOS calls from Covid victims and their families. And even if they are creating content for brands, the tonality of the content is kept subtle so that it doesn’t hurt the sentiments of people.

Pranay Swarup

Pranay Swarup, CEO and Founder, Chtrbox, said, “As the saying goes, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’ (a.k.a working harder to meet the challenge). These last few weeks echo this sentiment really well as we have seen how influencers and creators have reacted to the second wave. We have seen thousands of popular creators and everyday influencers step up and use their channels to help with the crisis, from sharing verified information, powering donation drives, inspiring their followers and community at large, to doing what they do best — bring a smile to people.”

Aparna Dixit

Aparna Dixit, an actor and influencer with a follower base of over 7.5 lakh, believes that it is very important for us to know the right time for everything and this is not the time to put out branded content. “The influencers can do branded content some other time. Right now, more important than money is humanity. We have never been in a situation like this before. It is the time when our people need help and we can use our social media following to amplify help. From the millions of people following, even if 10 people can come forward to help and if you are able to save even one life, it’s invaluable. Good deeds can give more happiness than money can ever give you,” she said.

Such circumstances will definitely hurt the revenue of influencers. But if one sees the larger picture, while revenues might look strained for some time, the influencers are using their social media power to save the lives of people, which in turn will fetch them a stronger and loyal audience base. In fact, many influencers have come together to raise funds online to help India fight Covid-19’s second wave.

Chhavi Mittal

Chhavi Mittal, an actor and social media influencer, runs content platform ‘Shitty Ideas Trending’ and another women-centric platform ‘Being Woman with Chhavi’. She said many brands also possibly feel that this is not the best time to advertise in any form due to a possible negative response. The frequency of branded content has organically reduced since people in all fields are seeing the impact of the second wave, including creators, agencies and brands.

“Undoubtedly, the decline in branded posts is a definite decline in revenue. But currently, we are focussing on keeping our community entertained,” Mittal said.

Freya Mishra

Freya Mishra, Client Servicing and Strategy Head, Hashtag Orange, said, “With the second wave of Covid, a majority of brands have either cancelled or postponed their influencer-led campaigns. This decrease has also come as a result of all the negative reactions and flak received by brands that went ahead with blatant marketing of their products.”

But brands in the FMCG, home food, immunity medicines and self-care segments still continue to leverage influencers rigorously. 

Ritesh Ujjwal

Ritesh Ujjwal, CEO, Kofluence, said, “Whether we like it or not, our consumption patterns are no longer limited to just ‘roti, kapada aur makaan’. Day in and day out, we need phones, laptops, AC (or other white goods), clothes, etc. Many items that might have been considered a luxury at a given point in time are now mundane daily usage items. So, when consumption patterns have only mildly shifted, how and why would marketing efforts towards those items stop? Of course, the need of the hour is to be empathetic, so any over-the-top promotions should be avoided. In short, if there is demand, and there is supply, there is marketing.” 

Dharika Merchant

Dharika Merchant, COO, Alchemy Group and WORD (Influencer marketing arm of Alchemy Group), said that while a lot of influencers are saying no to doing any branded content right now, brands are looking at more niche influencers for their campaigns. “Brands understand that most people turn to social media for entertainment and this significantly impacts the decision to continue spending on influencer marketing,” she added.

Giving an overall perspective on the impact of Covid-19 2.0 on the influencer marketing industry, Swarup said although some campaigns have been pushed or re-adapted, the net impact on the influencer marketing industry hasn't been bad. He said, “Last year, we saw an overall boost to the influencer sector as consumers started to spend more time on social media, spending more time indoors, plus we saw creators form an even stronger bond with their audiences. This year, while the crisis is unfortunately worse, brands are better prepared to handle it, and in a way have been equipped to sustain or build in an increasingly digital world.”

Now is the time for brands to become even more sensitive about what they sell and communicate with the consumers. They ought to stay clear of any content that is created only to sell any product. Instead, they should create content that can relax the consumers or come across as a positive distraction from the stress that we all are going through. In fact, content that helps the consumers sail through the second wave of Covid can have a positive impact on both brands and influencers.

Mishra of Hashtag said, “While it is still acceptable to take information to the people, the tonality has become that of empathy and the frequency of the content on social platforms has reduced considerably. In such a scenario, influencer marketing is the last thing on their minds. Empathy, safety, help and hope are some of the filters that the brand should use for the content that goes out from their social networks.”

Swarup seconded, “Brands and media have all been cognisant of the sentiment of the audience. While push advertising may continue to run, influencers, of course, have to take a humane stance as they're all about their audiences. They have to ensure that if they're promoting a brand or product, it's being done in a tasteful manner and adds innate value to their audience. We've seen this in the last few weeks through and through.”

One common conversation that is happening between influencers, agencies and brands is how the content they have put together on the internet can help consumers.

Ujjwal said that the influencers and brands are also including new normal elements in their campaigns. For example, their campaigns might revolve around how the product is being delivered by following high safety standards. Or stay at home and we will deliver the products to your doorstep via no-contact delivery systems in place. Some are looking at including the work-from-home angles.

Merchant said influencers keep a balance between sharing of resources, and branded content, and are creating content that is usually time-sensitive and/or carries with it some kind of urgency that cannot be pushed. “Much like everyone else, at this point, some consumers are looking for distraction in content, while others are only looking for resources.”

The price that influencers charge for posting branded content on their social media always depends on multiple factors such as popularity, availability, performance, engagement, etc., and that continues to stay the same, said Merchant.

While juggling between helping people with Covid resources and creating content for brands that helps generate income, influencers’ pricing of social media posts hasn’t been impacted at all. Swarup said there hasn't been much of an impact unless creators are supporting a CSR cause or a small business.

“In general, there is a big slump in the number of influencer campaigns running right now.  But while the pricing for celebs or mini celebs has not been affected by the current scenario, the potential for negotiation for the regular influencers has become wider,” Mishra said.

Ujjwal of Kofluence said that because most social media influencers promote posts as their secondary activity and it is not their sole income source, they are not very willing to compromise on cost. “Even if the flow stops temporarily, they do not have much to lose,” he said.